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John Willis Honors Me with Inaugural Cloud Cafe Podcast

April 5, 2008 1 comment

I am the inaugural guest in John Willis’s Cloud Cafe podcast series. I couldn’t be more honored.

Those of you who have been following this whole “what is Cloud Computing” debate may have had the opportunity to see the conversations between several bloggers regarding how to define cloud computing and related technologies. John Willis, of the John Willis ESM Blog, is making a key contribution by taking on the challenge of classifying vendors in this space. As I had some issues with his classification of Cassatt, he thought the best way to resolve that was to invite me to launch his new series.

Two things were resolved in this podcast.

First, I learned first hand what a classy guy John is. He handled the interview very well, let me talk my butt off (a talent I got from my minister mother, I think) and had several observations over the course of the conversation that showed his tremendous experience in the enterprise systems management space. I feel quite sheepish that I ever hinted that he wasn’t being forthright with his audience. Lesson gratefully learned; apology gladly offered.

Second, John and I were always much closer in our visions of cloud computing, utility computing and enterprise systems than it might have appeared at first. Our conversation raged from the aforementioned “what is cloud computing” question, to topics such as:

  • the relationship between cloud and utility computing,
  • the cultural challenge facing enterprises seeking the economic returns of these technologies,
  • how cloud and utility computing revolutionize performance and capacity planning, and
  • where Hadoop and CloudDB fit into all of this.

In the end, I think John and I agreed that cloud computing is more than just virtualization on the Internet. I very much enjoyed the conversation, and I hope you will take the time to listen to this podcast.

Got questions or comments? Post them here or on John’s blog; I will check both.

Finally, I will be working to get Cassatt’s entry in John’s classifications updated as a result of the discussion.

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Green Aware Programming

February 13, 2008 Leave a comment

monkchips writes about “green aware programming“, as coined by Christopher O’Connor, vice-president strategy and market management, Tivoli. I responded and pointed out that “green = cheap” in the utility computing world.

Analyzing the Green opportunity

February 11, 2008 Leave a comment

I just want to quickly bring Ken Oestreich’s analysis of the Green Grid meeting in San Francisco (Day 1 and Day 2), and its aftermath to your attention. Pay special attention to the aftermath post, as it is one of the most well thought out statements of the status and opportunity for the Green Grid organization I have seen.

Ken really knows his stuff with respect to the Green Data Center movement, so if you have any interest in the subject at all, subscribe to his blog. His earlier analysis of DC energy efficiency metrics is an all time classic on the subject.

The IT Power Divide

September 28, 2007 Leave a comment

The electric grid and the computing grid (RoughType: Nicholas Carr): Nicholas describes the incredible disconnect between IT’s perception of power as an issue

…[O]nly 12% of respondents believe that the energy efficiency of IT equipment is a critical purchasing criterion.

and the actual scale of the issue in reality

…[A] journeyman researcher named David Sarokin has taken a crack at estimating the overall amount of energy required to power the country’s computing grid…[which] amounts to about 350 billion kWh a year, representing a whopping 9.4% of total US electricity consumption.

Amen, brother. In fact, the reason you haven’t heard from me as often in the last two to three weeks is that I have been steadfastly attending a variety of conferences and customer prospect meetings discussing Active Power Management and SLAuto. What I’ve learned is that there are deep divides between the IT and facility views of electrical efficiency:

  • IT doesn’t see the electric bill, so they think power is mostly an upfront cost issue (building a data center with enough power to handle eventual needs) and an ongoing capacity issue (figuring out how to divide power capacity among competing needs). However, their bottom line remains meeting the service needs of the business.

  • Facilities doesn’t see the constantly changing need for information technology of the business, and sees electricity mostly as a upfront capacity issue (determining how much power to deliver to the data center based on square footage and proposed Kw/sq ft) and an ongoing cost issue (managing the monthly electric bill). The bottom line in this case is value, not business revenue.

Thus, IT believes that once they get a 1 Mw data center, they should figure out how to efficiently use that 1 Mw–not how to squeeze efficiencies out of the equipment to run at some number measurably below 1 Mw. Meanwhile, facilities gets excited about any technology that reduces overall power consumption and maintains excess power capacity, but lacks the insight into what approaches can be taken that will not impact the business’s bottom line.

With an SLAuto approach to managing power for data centers, both organizations can be satisfied–if they would only take the time to listen to each other’s needs. IT can get a technical approach that minimizes (or has zero effect) on system productivity, while facilities sees a more “optimal” power bill every month. Furthermore, facilities can finally integrate IT into the demand curtailment programs offered by their local power utilities, which can generate significant additional rebates for the company.

Let me know what you think here. Am I off base? Do you speak regularly with your facilities/IT counter part, and actively search for ways to reduce the cost of electricity while meeting service demand?

Links – 09/10/2007

September 10, 2007 1 comment

Brave New World (Isabel Wang): I can’t begin to express how sorry I am to see Isabel Wang leave the discussion, as her voice has been one of the clearest expressions of the challenges before the MSP community. However, I understand her need to go where her heart takes her, and I wish her the best of luck in all of her endeavors.

(Let me also offer my condolences to Isabel and the entire 3TERA community for the loss of their leader and visionary, Vlad Miloushev. His understanding of the utility computing opportunity for MSPs will also be missed.)

MTBF: Fear and Loathing in the Datacenter (Aloof Architecture: Aloof Schipperke): Aloof discusses his mixed feelings about my earlier post on changing the mindset around power cycling servers. I understand his fears, and hear his concerns; MTBF (or more to the point, MTTF) isn’t a great indicator of actual service experience. However, even by conservative standards, the quality and reliability of server components has improved vastly in the last decade. Does that mean perfection? Nope. But as Aloof notes, our bad experiences get ingrained in the culture, so we overcompensate.

CIOs Uncensored: Whither The Role Of The CIO? (InformationWeek: John Sloat): Nice generality, Bob! Seriously, does he really expect that *every* IT organization will shed its data centers for service providers? What about defense? Banking? Financial markets? While I believe that most IT shops are going to go to a general contractor/architect role, I think there is still a big enough market for enterprise data centers that markets to support them will go on for years to come.

That being said, most of you out there should look at your own future with a service-oriented computing (SOC?) world in mind.

An easy way to get started with SLAuto

September 4, 2007 4 comments

It’s been an interesting week, leading up to the Labor Day weekend, but as of this morning I get to talk more openly about one project that has been taking a great deal of my time. As I have blogged about Service Level Automation (“SLAuto”), it may have dawned on some of you that achieving nirvana here means changing a lot about your current architecture and practices.

For example, decoupling software from hardware is easy to say, but requires significant planning and execution to implement (though this can be simplified somewhat with the right platform). Building the correct monitors, policies and interfaces is also time intensive work that requires the correct platform for success. However, as noted before, the biggest barriers to implementing SLAuto and utility computing are cultural.

There is an opportunity out there right now to introduce SLAuto without all of the trappings of utility computing, especially the difficult decoupling of software from hardware. It is an opportunity that the Silicon Valley is going ga-ga over, and it is a real problem with real dollar costs for every data center on the planet.

The opportunity is energy consumption management, aka the “green data center”.

Rather than pitch Cassatt’s solution directly, I prefer to talk about the technical opportunity as a whole. So let’s evaluate what is going on in the “GDC” space these days. As I see it, there are three basic technical approaches to “green” right now:

  1. More efficient equipment, e.g. more power efficient chips, server architectures, power distribution systems, etc.
  2. More efficient cooling, e.g. hot/cold aisles, liquid cooling, outside air systems, etc.
  3. Consolidation, e.g. virtualization, mainframes, etc.

Still, there is something obvious missing here: no matter which of these technologies you consider, not one of them is actually going to turn off unused capacity. In other words, while everyone is working to build a better light bulb or to design your lighting so you need fewer bulbs, no one is turning off the lights when no-one is in the room.

That’s where SLAuto comes in. I contend that there are huge tracks of computing in any large enterprise where compute capacity runs idle for extended periods. Desktop systems are certainly one of the biggest offenders, as are grid computing environments that are not pushed to maximum capacity at all times. However, possibly the biggest offender in any organization that does in-house development, extensive packaged system customization or business system integration is the dev/test environment.

Imagine such a lab where capacity that will be unused each evening/weekend, or for all but two weeks of a typical development cycle, or at all times except when testing a patch to a three year old rev of product, was shut down until needed. Turned off. Non-operational. Idle, but not idling.

Of course, most lab administrators probably feel extremely uncomfortable with this proposition. How are you going to do this without affecting developer/QA productivity? How do you know its OK to turn off a system? Why would my engineers even consider allowing their systems to be managed this way?

SLAuto addresses these concerns by simply applying intelligence to power management. A policy-based approach means a server can be scheduled for shutdown each evening (say, at 7PM), but be evaluated before shutdown against a set of policies that determine whether it is actually OK to complete the shut down.

Some example policies might be:

  • Are certain processes running that indicate a development/build/test task is still underway?
  • Is a specific user account logged in to the system right now?
  • Has disk activity been extremely low for the last four hours?
  • Did the owner of the server or one of his/her designated colleagues “opt-out” of the scheduled shutdown for that evening?

Once these policies are evaluated, we can see if the server meets the criteria to be shut down as requested. If not, keep it running. Such a system needs to also provide interfaces for both the data center administrators and the individual server owners/users to control the power state of their systems at all times, set policies and monitor power activities for managed servers.

I’ll talk more about this in the coming week, but I welcome your input. Would you shut down servers in your lab? Your grid environment? Your production environment? What are your concerns with this approach? What policies come to mind that would be simple and/or difficult to implement?

Links – 08/16/2007

Convergence of Virtualization and Green Data Center Trends Could Be Perfect Timing for Microsoft (ITBusinessEdge: Kachina Dunn): Kachina notes that Microsoft may gain the most from the way the virtualization market is setting up. Combine that with the comments that Chris Kanaracus made about Microsoft’s “compute cloud” strategy, and you begin to get the feeling that Mr. Softy may out-engineer its rivals in utility computing technology. I hope not, because (like VMWare) they are still obsessed with locking people into their platform. We need that utility computing portability standard!

Ozzie Reveals More Details of Cloud Development Platform (RedmondDeveloper: Chris Kanaracus): Another good breakdown of Microsoft’s “PaaS” (Platform as a Service) play. Ray’s comments at the end of the article give me the feeling that Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com and others are not free and clear of MSFTs influence, yet.

“We believe we are the only company with the platform DNA that’s necessary to viably deliver this highly leveragable platform approach to services. And we’re certainly one of the few companies that has the financial capacity to capitalize on this sea change, this services transformation.”

Grid computing: Term may fade, but features will live on (ComputerWorld: Barbara DePompa): Barbara discusses the view of many that the term “grid computing” may go extinct in the face of virtualization and utility computing. My own opinion is that “grid” has actually had its definition narrowed back to its roots: grid computing platforms provide resource allocation to job-based computing processes, like batch data processing, image rendering and HPC. Utility computing is the term that applies to all “computing on demand” applications, including grid applications.

Automation and going green in the data center (NetworkWorld: NewDataCenter): Someone at NetworkWorld saw the light at Next Generation Data Center in San Francisco earlier this month. I just wanted to welcome them aboard, and invite them to explore the importance of SLAuto to both automation and green practices.